CHAPTER VI. ROMAN JURISPRUDENCE.
Ingenious writers, like Vico and Niebuhr, have extended their researches to the government of the kings, and advanced many plausible speculations; but the earliest legislation worthy of notice, was the celebrated code called the Twelve Tables, framed from the reports of the commissioners whom the Romans sent to Athens and other Greek states, to collect what was most useful in their legal systems. But scarcely any part of the civil law contained in the Twelve Tables has come down to us. All we know with certainty, is that it was the intention of the decemviral legislation to bring the estates into closer connection, and to equalize the laws for both. Nor do the provisions of the decemviral code, with which we are acquainted, show that enlightened regard to natural justice which characterized jurisprudence in its subsequent development. It allowed insolvent debtors to be treated with great cruelty; they could be imprisoned for sixty days, loaded with chains, and then might be sold into foreign slavery. It sanctioned a barbarous retaliation - an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But it gave a redress for lampoons or libels, allowed an appeal from the magistrate to the people, and forbid capital punishment except by a decision of the centuries. [Footnote: Lord Mackenzie, part 6.] Niebuhr maintains, [Footnote: Lecture 25.] in his lectures on the History of Rome, that the Twelve Tables conceded the right to every pater familias of making a will, by which regulation the child of a plebeian, by a patrician mother, could succeed to his father's property, which was of great importance, and a great step in natural justice. It is supposed that the most important part of the decemviral legislation was the jus publicum, [Footnote: Cicero, De Legibus.] or that which refers to the Roman constitution. The Twelve Tables obtained among the Romans a peculiar reverence; they were committed to memory by the young; they were transcribed with the greatest care, and were considered as the fountain of right. They were approved by the comitia centuriata, which was the supreme authority, and in the time of Appius Claudius was composed of patricians alone. If Niebuhr is right in his statement that the power of making wills was given to plebeians, it shows a greater liberality on the part of patricians than what they generally have had credit for, and is hardly to be reconciled with the statement of Lord Mackenzie, that all marriages between patricians and plebeians were prohibited by the new code.
[The Twelve Tables the basis of Roman law.]
[Progress of Roman Law.]